It’s not enough to look to professionals to prevent suicide; the entire community must mobilize to prevent tragedy, advocates told participants of an early-morning awareness rally and 5k at Elton Park on Saturday.
A little over 50 individuals gathered at the park before sunrise for a lantern release and 5k fun run intended to send a message of hope to the community and to raise awareness of the growing number of resources available in the community.
Leaders such as Tooele City Councilwoman Debbie Winn and Scott Rogers, superintendent for the Tooele County School District, reaffirmed their commitment to suicide prevention.
“If I could just get real for a minute, I’ll tell you that last year, we had seven students that died by suicide,” Rogers said. “For me and for many of you, it’s not just a number. There are names. There are families and friends that were affected. We all know someone who was affected. And I remember thinking … not again on my watch. I want to do everything that I can in the school district to make sure that we prevent this tragedy.”
Rogers said he started by encouraging faculty to be trained in QPR, which teaches people to recognize the signs of emotional crisis and to respond appropriately, but felt that wasn’t enough.
He said the school district has implemented a new curriculum, Second Step, has begun tracking fights and instances of bullying, and has hired two Safe School coordinators to help prevent suicide among students. All nine secondary schools in the district have also introduced Hope Squads, groups of specially trained students, to lead the district initiatives on a peer-to-peer basis.
Since implementing these programs, Rogers said the school district has referred over 100 students for mental health counseling, and is looking for ways to assist those families that cannot afford treatment.
Kim Myers, a suicide prevention specialist with the state who attended Saturday’s rally, said mental health crises and substance abuse were the most common factors in suicide. She said one in five people will struggle with mental health at some point during their lifetime, and said that one in ten will consider suicide as a solution.
Myers said that the state has only begun seriously addressing suicide in recent years, and has discovered the traditional approach of hospitalization and professional care is not entirely effective.
“We’ve really had to broaden our approach,” she said.
If we’re to stop suicide, Winn said, the whole community will have to come together to reach out to those in need.
“We are here to help one another,” Winn said. “That is what we do as part of a community.”
But motivational speaker and local resident Chad Hymas, who volunteered to speak at the event and to provide materials for the rally, said he felt Tooele still has a long way to go.
“We are few in number today. You can look around — there’s a lot of empty space. Look at all the green grass,” he said. “That shows you how much work we have to do.”
Hymas said he recently spoke to a group of about 500 Provo-area residents who all experience same-gender attraction — and who reported in a survey that nearly 90 percent of them had considered suicide as an escape from the rejection they faced.
For Tooele to more effectively address suicide. Hymas said he felt the community needed to grow its passion, because “people who lack passion have friends who lack commitment.” Additionally, he said, if residents see things happening in their community that they want to change, they need to become more proactive in reaching out and befriending those around them.
Finally, Hymas said, residents need to learn to accept people as they are.
“These people feel unaccepted, and that’s why people take their own life, because people feel unloved,” he said. “We need to accept people for who they are.”
Hymas said he learned this at a recent conference:
“Just because it’s the way I’ve always believed, just because I have my values, doesn’t mean that my values are the only right values. What I do know is that I’m supposed to accept everybody for who they are and love them with a passion. I just know that we’re supposed to treat each other like family.”